AI as a Utility

Amid all this activity, of a picture of our AI future is coming into view, and it is not the HAL 9000—a discrete machine animated by a charismatic (yet potentially homicidal) humanlike consciousness—or a Singularitan rapture of superintelligence. The AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services—cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, and almost invisible except when it blinks off. This common utility will serve you as much IQ as you want but no more than you need. You’ll simply plug into the grid and get AI as if it was electricity. It will enliven inert objects, much as electricity did more than a century past. Three generations ago, many a tinkerer struck it rich by taking a tool and making an electric version. Take a manual pump; electrify it. Find a hand-wringer washer; electrify it. The entrepreneurs didn’t need to generate the electricity; they brought it from the grid and used it to automate the previously manual. Now everything that we formerly electrified we will cognify. There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or more valuable by infusing it with some extra IQ. In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.

— Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable

The Price of Entertainment

In 1995 I calculated the average hourly costs for various media platforms, including music, books, newspapers, and movies. There was some variation between media, but the price stayed within the same order of magnitude, converging on a mean of $2.00 per hour. In 1995 we tended to pay, on average, two bucks per hour for media use.

Fifteen years later, in 2010, and then again in 2015, I recalculated the values for a similar set of media using the same method. When I adjusted for inflation and translated in 2015 dollars, the average cost to consume one hour of media in 1995, 2010 and 2015 is respectively $3.08, $2.69, and $3.37. That means that the value of our attention has been remarkably stable over 20 years.

— Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable

Highly unscientific, but it seems to line up with what I generally pay for media


“These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.”

— Cormac McCarthy

General Mint

“The wind was a woman, too. Sometimes it was a woman like General Mint, a small woman with a neat, pure, honest little face, a woman in flowing black astride the tallest white stallion anyone ever saw, singing as she rode like a flame before a thousand wild troopers who rode as she did or ran like wolves, firing and reloading as they came and halting only to die.”

— Gene Wolfe

General Mint is a character in The Book of the Long Sun, though this passage is from The Book of the Short Sun

Philosophical Materialism

It is known that Whistler, when asked how long it took him to paint one of his ‘nocturnes’ answered: ‘All of my life.’

With the same rigor he could have said that all of the centuries that preceded the moment when he painted were necessary. From that correct application of the law of causality it follows that the slightest event presupposes the inconceivable universe and, conversely, that the universe needs even the slightest of events.

— Borges